Sometimes the lessons parents teach kids about technology feel like the kinds of things us adults could learn ourselves.
Maybe you’ve heard about this: On Christmas Day, 13-year-old Greg Hofmann of Sandwich, Mass., got something he craved — an iPhone 5. The next day, he got the contract. Not the one that got him his phone’s data plan — mom and dad are footing that bill — but an 18-point pact that tells him how he can and can’t use the phone.
Among the rules: “It does not go to school with you,” “Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person” and “Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’. Not ever.”
Greg’s mom, Janell Burley Hofmann, shared the contract on her blog and it was no big deal. Then her editor at the Huffington Post saw it for the traffic draw it was and whoa. It went viral in days, leading to thousands of shares, an interview on Good Morning America and enough vicious parenting debates to put up mom’s cryptic defenses. “Man that sent hate mail: Yes! I would love a Nobel Peace Prize!” she tweeted. “Thank you!”
Parents, as you might expect, have been pretty vocal about this. Some think the contract is spot on. Some think it’s helicopter motherhood at its worst. A couple locals insist they would have saved up to buy their own phones before agreeing to such restrictions, even at that age.
Me? I think there’s the gap between how teens and adults approach technology is smaller than we think. Much of the wisdom Burley Hofmann passed on to her kid is the kind of stuff I need to hear more myself.
“I hope that you understand it is my job to raise you into a well rounded, healthy young man that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it,” Burley Hofmann wrote her son.
I’d say that’s a nice goal for everyone.
Here are three things I think iPhone contract mom got right:
“Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public. Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being. You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that.”
When a friend is with me and pulls out his phone, when it hasn’t even buzzed, it communicates one thing to me very clearly — he’s bored. Sometimes that’s cool. We’re both idle, maybe. Waiting for something. Other times it’s in that small way hurtful. We’re in the middle of a conversation, or sharing an experience that could spark one.
I try to chalk this up to personality differences, or a new reality of digital life. It’s tough to compete with a device designed to deliver everything you find most cool.
But when I’m honest, I think we’ve lived with this technology too long to expect people won’t call a slight a slight. Even with new relationships, just the presence of a potentially interrupting gadget can weaken the relationship, as one study found. Take your attention somewhere I can’t follow, and I’ll wonder why.
“Don’t take a zillion pictures and videos. There is no need to document everything. Live your experiences. They will be stored in your memory for eternity.”
Granted, that last line is pretty, but not quite true. All those Instagrams take me back to small moments I’d have forgotten otherwise, and it’s fun to scroll through my pictures here and there and stir up good memories.
Still, pausing to share an experience doesn’t pause the experience. I knew my best friend and I made the best of her weekend visit from Boston last November when I realized, only after she’d gone and only somewhat regretfully, that we hadn’t once stopped to take a picture together.
“Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk. Talk to a stranger. Wonder without googling.”
Sometimes this feels impossible. I’ll look up, see the but think only about the contents of that last email. As Alexis Madrigal suggested, this could have as much to do with our addiction to work as to our addiction to gadgets. Our work is important. And the bus, or the line at Starbucks, or the walk from the parking lot, can give you the right mix of movement and isolation to get things done. Unless it’s do or die, though, my to-do list can stand to wait while the view opens up over the 520 bridge, at least, and I check to see if a bald eagle is perched on its lampposts.
As for “wonder without Googling,” I couldn’t have put it better. “I don’t know” doesn’t linger long where a smartphone is present. When an uncertainty makes its way into a group chat, I find myself counting the seconds until someone kills it with a smartphone, and being a little glad when no one does.
Mónica Guzmán is a community strategist, freelance journalist and award-winning digital life columnist for GeekWire. You can find her tweeting away at @moniguzman, subscribe to her public Facebook posts at facebook.com/moniguzman or reach her via email. See a list of her clients on her website. Also see this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.